Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Yellow and Black Attack

As a Christ follower, I believe that every person and every thing on this planet is created and designed with a divine purpose and plan in mind for its life. However, there are four possible exceptions to this rule:
  1. Spiders
  2. Cockroaches
  3. Reality television stars
  4. Fans of the University of Alabama

(Items 2-4 may, in fact, overlap in definition.)

Those who know me well know of my fear - nay: phobia - of all things arachnid. When Ashley and I were first dating, the revelation of my lack of "manliness" around these eight legged demons came when she discovered that I killed a spider on my back porch by chucking a cement block at it from the other side of the fence. Since then, and fearing that I might toss a shoe/can of corn/chair/potted plant through a window in my zeal to kill off these invaders, we have taken on distinct roles when it comes to pest removal in the house:

She kills spiders. I kill everything else.

There are only two problems with this rule:
  1. During the day while she is at work, I have to kill all the things. Otherwise, I will just lock the boys and myself in a closet, stuff a towel under the crack of the door, and hang a note on the doorknob telling her that we have been in there for five hours waiting for her to arrive to kill a spider; and
  2. When I walk Maggie. Outside, there is no jurisdiction for pest control.

Last summer, I became aware that a new (to me) breed of crawling hell spawn was infesting our neighborhood. I was walking Maggie past an empty house one night (problem #1), without my glasses on (problem #2), near where a streetlight had gone out (problem #3). Through my hazy sight, I noticed what looked to be a spider suspended in midair. Upon closer inspection (meaning I almost walked face-first into this Sheol of webbing), I saw that it was indeed a spider. A spider that was approximately the size of my palm and fingers were I to stretch out my hand. A spider which had spun a web roughly two feet in diameter.

I think the next time I saw a doctor, they made note of my having hypertension. It may or not be related to this.

Since last year (and Ashley taking on the role of Xena to rid our neighborhood of not one but two of these oversized escapees from the world of Harry Potter), I have learned these crawling personifications of nightmare fuel are called banana spiders. How and why something with the name of a creature that sounds like it should be sequestered in the Amazon is living - and breeding - in South Carolina is beyond my understanding. But breeding they are.

I should know. I've found two of the probable offspring so far this year. I say offspring because while they lacked the Toho-level oversized proportions of the two from last year, they make up for their stature with the size of their egg sacks.

One was brazen enough to build a web stretching the breadth of the stairs leading to our back door. Yes. It was trying to encase the house in a web so that it could eat us. Apparently it was raised on a steady dietary stream of watching ARACHNOBHOBIA. Ashley killed it, although I still feel the need to salt the earth upon which it was smooshed, fearing it may rise again.

The second sighting was last week. About seven houses down the street (STILL TOO CLOSE), I saw another of these infidel creatures, mocking gravity, God, and the laws of nature as it brazenly hung upside down on its web. This one, larger than the one that tired to cocoon our house, somehow, I let live. Maybe it was a sign of maturity within me. Maybe it was me finally beginning to come to terms and live in peace with all of creation. Maybe it was a sign of respect, that if I don't mess with it, it won't seek revenge upon me.

Or maybe it was just that I knew that if I didn't kill it on a first strike, I'd freak out and probably jump into the street and get struck by on an oncoming truck, all the while screaming in a register that would make glass panes shatter throughout the city.

But just to be safe, I'm going to Lowes today to stock up on cement blocks.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Washes Whiter Than

I really shouldn't get so emotional while doing laundry.

Oh, sure: I can justify a grumbling over the seemingly unending mountain of clothes, sheets, and towels that apparently self-replicates every few days.

I can smile with a gleam of nostalgia in my eyes as I fold shirts and shorts that have been passed down to Eli, remembering what Kai was like at age one and how stinking adorable Eli looks in every article of clothing I've had to wash to get rid of the breakfast/lunch/dinner he wears as much as eats.

I can understand the way my heart flutters a bit as I put into a pile to store for Eli the clothes that Kai has outgrown, noting that he is growing up way too damn fast.

But then I feel my breath catch in my throat, brought on by noting that Eli's "outgrown" pile contains pajamas, shirts, onesies - all manner of baby clothing - that were purchased by my mom. Clothes that now he has outgrown them, my mom will not be purchasing replacement clothes for. 

Ever.

Clothes that will go into a large bin in our basement for eventual sale or trade at the local consignment shop. Clothes that are moving on. Clothes that are moving on, even though parts of my heart have yet to move on.

I really shouldn't get so emotional while doing laundry.

Oh, sure: we've kept special baby clothes for Kai. We're keeping special baby clothes for Eli. Neither of us have the skill set to be able to craft a blanket out of 34,721 shirts, onesies, or footie pajamas to pass on to the boys.

They'll have clothes. Clothes they wore when they were babies, that one day when they're older they will look upon and be amazed they were ever that small.

We'll have memories. Memories of who gave them what, and how little time passed between when the shirt was first too big for them before it became skin tight almost seemingly overnight.

But not everything. To hold on to everything would be too much. Some things need to be let go of. Some things need to move on. Some things would weigh us down, clutter up space, and prohibit the ability to grow.

(I think I'm still talking about laundry, but maybe a bit more than that.)

I really shouldn't get so emotional while doing laundry.

But then again, how else am I going to get some of these stains out?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Everything Felt Smaller

I am incredibly thankful to the folks at Venn Magazine who graciously have allowed me to start contributing to their website. (Yes, this means I'm going to start writing again.) 

Presented here is the original opening of my piece, which was trimmed due to my ability to somehow write twice the allotted word count. I'm kooky like that. At the end of the intro is the link to the Venn Magazine website where you can continue on reading.

It was the summer of 2005. I was walking around the perimeter of my undergrad institution. I remembered with crystal clarity the feel of the sidewalk beneath my feet as I rushed (late again) to classes, the immensity of the rooms where we limped through lesson after lesson, and the grandeur of the stage where our choir performed. Now? Everything felt smaller.

It was May of 2007. We had spent the previous day in a flurry of preparedness, planning the final placement of flowers, the guest registry, and decorations. But today, on my wedding day, the chuppah we had raised, the crowd of friends gathered to celebrate, and the layout of the feast in the room below us where we would toast and join in a communal meal? Compared to the vision of beauty walking down the aisle towards me? Everything felt smaller.

It was the summer of 2008. I was busy at work. The phone call from my sister started with only three words: "It's lung cancer." Less than five months later, in November, I was packing a suitcase late at night after being awoken with the news that my father had passed away. The work projects and student assignments that were of such importance to the university that needed to be done before the end of the semester? Everything felt smaller.

It was March of 2009. The doctors rushed my wife into surgery for an emergency Caesarian, because the umbilical cord had become tangled around our baby's neck. After what felt like the fastest delivery in medical history, I held a bright eyed, round faced, tiny baby boy in my arms. The worries of how to change a diaper, how to take care of him, and the burden of responsibility I fretted over on an almost hourly basis? Everything felt smaller.

It was June of 2013. In a twist of history repeating itself, my wife and I raced to the hospital because she had begun to go into labor the day of our scheduled Caesarian. A few hours later, a crying, cuddly, joyous little baby boy was in my arms. The worry about taking care of two kids as a stay-at-home dad, the reality of the strain it might put on our finances, the fact I felt like I'd forgotten everything about how to take care of a baby after only almost five years? Everything felt smaller.

Click here to continue on to the Venn Magazine website for the rest of the story. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Book Review: Grace for the Contemplative Parent

One of the most fascinating and influential books I have discovered in the last five years is The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. If you're not familiar with this title, do yourself a favor and purchase a copy. It's a little over 100 pages long, but it is packed with depth, beauty, and mystery surrounding how we can and might should choose to interact with and worship God. It was also written hundreds of years ago, so it's not exactly influenced by modern ways in which the church or pop culture has formed our opinions on faith.

And then there's Grace for the Contemplative Parent. It's also a little over 100 pages long, but published in 2013. And quite, quite different in tone from the tome by Bro. Lawrence.

Grace is written as "A Practical Guide for Mothers Practicing the Presence of God." While I knew it was written by a mom, I was unaware of how mom-centric the opening chapters of the book would be. There are plenty of stories and examples throughout the book which, through inference, can be transferred to a parent of either sex; however, the overall voice found in the book is one directed towards not just moms, but moms of multiple kids. And while the author has the authority to speak from this voice (as it's her own life she is drawing parallels from), I would have appreciated it had the book been more in line with grace for the parent and not just for the mom.

This is not to say that the book is bereft of valuable information. Each chapter is framed with a practice either found in or drawn directly from the work of Bro. Lawrence. And the later chapters especially ring true for parents of either sex, in that we need to remember how to find solitude, rest, and not lose ourselves in the lives of our children. As a stay-at-home dad, perhaps some of these lessons strike a bit close to home, as they are dangers areas I find myself slipping into time and again.

Overall, the book is a great read for moms, but I can not state that I'd suggest as a book for dads. Either way, it would make for a great comparison study to read this book side by side with Bro. Lawrence's works to find perhaps more opportunities to parent - and live - with grace.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Parti 255.g

Thursday, May 29, 2014

SAHD: Seeking Assistance for Help with Depression

(TRIGGER WARNINGS: this post will discuss some of my ongoing struggles with depression and anxiety. And this isn't the first time I've ever written on the topic; for further review, check out my post "A Wounded Healer" at Devotional Diva.)

2014 is shaping up to be an utterly craptastic year, potentially the worst one I've ever lived through; but then again, I still have seven months to make it until I can write this year off. It seems as if one thing after another in life has intentionally and purposefully been focused on chipping away at me since January got here:

The death of my mom.
The subsequent dealing with everything that surrounded and surrounds making sure the house is in order, physically and emotionally.

Chip, chip.

The car wreck I had.
The now ├╝ber-heightened sense of quadruple-checking everything when I drive with the boys in the car.
The aftermath of back and neck pain.

Chip, chip.

The loss of one of my favorite, not to mention paying, writing outlets.
The disillusionment of me as a writer due to the shortcomings of the person who represented (past tense) me.
The questions I raise internally of does it even matter if I ever write anything again.
The apathy I feel when I look at my notebook, wishing to feel again the joy of what it was like to craft something - even if it mattered only to me.

Chip, chip.

The consistent sense of isolation as a stay at home dad.
The painful realization of an all but absolute absence of in-person social interactions on a daily/weekly basis.

Chip, chip.

The fact that every form of media that I once found some kind of joy in - from reading and television to my CD collection - now felt dull and lifeless.
The fact that I wanted to - and even started to - get rid of and purge myself of collections I had spent a lifetime putting together.

Chip, chip.

Finances.
Sleep deprivation.
My future prospects for employment.

Chip, chip.

It's often said that we only see about ten percent of an iceberg when we view it bobbing above the ocean, that the majority of it stays submerged under the water. If that's the case with our personalities and who we are on the surface as a person - I feel like I've been whittled down to an ice cube. These repeated chips at the Sonny people see (if anyone sees me, that is) have taken a drastic toll on my self-image, sense of self-worth, and feelings like I matter at all.

Chip, chip.

Compounding matters is the fact that I'm a stay at home parent. It's not fair to my kids for me to be all introspective and moody. It's psychologically healthy for my oldest to see that daddy can have feelings and that it's alright to be sad and cry at times, such as with the loss of my mom and every unresolved feeling about my dad's death that still lingers half a decade later.

Yet as I am reminded by what I read online: I have the greatest job and responsibility ever. I am shaping lives, grounding emotionally, and role modeling for two kids who will be influenced by me as their dad far more than I can imagine. The simple fact that in five years' time I have probably spent more face time with my oldest child than my own dad did with me in 38 years should be both heartening and encouraging. The fact that I get to watch my youngest's eyes explode with delight at the wonder of the world unfolding to him should be enough to make my heart soar.

And yet. And because this didn't fulfill my every aspect of being like I was told it should? And the fact I feel guilt over wanting more and guilt over not feeling fulfilled?

Chip. Chip. Chip. Chip. Chip.

When Ashley and I get to have a date night where we can spend the time in intelligent conversation - although honestly, the fact that we're not interrupted mid-sentence every time we speak is spectacular enough - and she gets to share with me what's going on in work, what she's doing, what she's hoping to accomplish, and what she wants to do in the future, it's wonderful. When it comes my turn to speak, and all that comes to mind surrounds laundry, walking the neighborhood with the boys, or something else utterly trivial and I am left with a void about the future, anything even adult in nature to talk about, or me, my personality, or my life?

Chip. Dynamite. Repeat.

Compounding matters is my sex, and that as a guy, there are gender roles society expects me to uphold. Not that I have really ever given a damn about said rules, but there remains something deeply imbedded that says as a guy, I don't share my feelings. I should barely even have feelings to emote about, and if they exist, they deserve to remain with the other 90% of the iceberg, so pack them down.

Compounding matters is my faith, and God literally knows the absolute polar extremes that people of faith run the gamut on when it comes to dealing with emotions: pray; pray harder; seek a Christian counselor; God wants us to be happy; this is just a spiritual attack; pray harder still; find your answers in the Bible; get over it; Christians shouldn't be depressed; pray harder again; the joy of the Lord is my strength; pray harder; and on and on.

Chip, chip.

The thing is, this has been building. For a while now. Back in September, I asked Ashley to help me research how to find a therapist in town to speak with. And yes, you may infer how long I put off actually finding someone to speak with by the fact that I am just now writing about this in May of the following year.

I've been tense.
Moody.
Depressed.
Angry.
Unfocused.
Unmotivated.
My temper has had a hair trigger.
I've wondered if it would matter if I was even here.
I've wondered if anyone would care.
I've wondered if my kids would care.
I've wondered if I mattered.
At all.

For months.

This isn't the first time I've struggled with depression. This isn't the first time I've seen a therapist. This isn't the first time these emotions have surfaced. To be honest, this has been a lifelong struggle in many ways for me. And as I dig into my past, facing emotions and memories long thought gone, I'm realizing exactly how far back these thoughts extend.

But for now, I'm slowly starting to feel like me again. I'm slowly starting to remember what Sonny feels like. I'm slowly starting to find joy.

Not every day. Some days are better than others. But the good is starting to outweigh the bad.

I'm not on antidepressants (yet). I'm not done with seeing a counselor (yet). I'm not done dragging the submerged parts of this iceberg I have willfully sunk up and out into the daylight (yet).

But I'm trying.

And I hope to have the strength to keep on trying.

For me as much as for my family. 

Chip, chip.

This time, the chipping does not represent being whittling away; instead, let the chipping noise stand for the sound of what it is like to scale this mountain, as the pick I carry helps me to gain a foothold. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: What A Woman Is Worth

Caveat: I've known Tamara for years now, and have come to love both her writings and her as a friend. When she announced this series on her blog and the subsequent book it was going to lead into, I could not wait to read everything associated with it, and even contribute my own little piece. You can order your own copy of Tamara's book (although she'd probably flatly deny this is "her" book as much as it is "everyone's" book) here

For the most part, guys are never taught how to emotionally affirm one another aside from the occasional "I hear ya" or "Dude..." snippets of "being open" that we let slide between us in conversation, using both phrases interchangeably for both good news and bad. We almost dismiss the notion that sharing the deep emotional connections associated with opening ourselves up with one another can bond and bring a sense of unity in struggles and joy as well as rating our belches after eating spicy food can. But if we are truly honest with ourselves, the head-shaking worthy mystery we ascribe to women and their ability to open themselves up and let the past flow freely - many times to complete strangers - is something we yearn for at the deepest core of ourselves.  

What A Woman Is Worth, at the basic level, is a collection of first-person essays from women who are opening their stories and their lives up not to scrutiny but to community. And in doing so, they gift the reader with illustrations of both healing and pain that, regardless of gender, individuals can connect with and find parts of themselves in.

From the opening lines of the introduction, WAWIW grips the reader. Not so much that the narratives told in the anthology from almost three dozen women grab your face and force you to stare unblinking into the experiences being shared; rather, the tone and structure of the chapters, deftly edited and arranged by Tamara Lunardo, makes the work feel as if the author of each piece quietly reaches out their hand to yours, and they gently hold it and gaze into your eyes as a portion of their life story unfolds for your benefit and theirs. The end result is humbling and manages to convey a sensation of shared loss between the reader and the author over the chapters in their lives they discuss.

While some might dismissively and erroneously assume that WAWIW contains tale after tale of how these women were mistreated by the fathers/boyfriends/spouses in their lives and it drained them of a sense of self-worth, the variety and range of personal experiences shared by the authors show time and again how generationally, socially, and institutionally we as a people have failed to break cycles, stereotypes, and patterns of abuse. As a father of two boys, this book contains lessons and illustrations that I needed reminders of on how to show forth dignity and love to their mom especially but to women in general. More than simply an outlet for venting, therapy, or crying out against injustice towards a gender, WAWIW shows hope on every page. This hope comes in the form of that in sharing these stories, a trail is not so much blazed as it is illuminated for others who may find themselves on similar journeys.

From cover to credits, WAWIW is quite possibly one of the best anthology books I have ever read. The cover illustration alone could be scrutinized for months - the lone woman, carrying her baggage with her head covered, back turned to the reader, walking down a long, wide path while barefoot. I personally imagine the face of the woman on the cover to be smiling a bit, head lifted towards the sky. She's not shedding tears for the path behind her as much as she is drawing comfort in the knowledge she has the strength to face whatever else may lie down the path before her.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Poet Try

Well, since April is National Poetry Month, and I've been all melancholy as of late...it's like the two themes go hand in hand. So, here's my (poor) attempt at expression through poetry.

When the Words Won't Come

I stare at the computer screen.
The cursor - aptly named - blinking at me. Mocking the empty spaces.
Almost nervously twitching, awaiting to be used to fill spaces with ideas and thoughts to share with the ones who will read them.

And still, the words won't come.

I stare at the blank page before me.
Pen to paper, tactile therapy.
The rhythm and cadence of scratching out words. Creating onto something what once was nothing.

And still, the words won't come.

It's not that the words which once flowed so freely are now blocked;
It's that in their place is a feeling of
Emptiness.

The words that I used to love, the medium used to find joy in, the sacred space where I  would put into expression the images and beliefs that were tied between my head and heart...

Empty.

Frustration. Anxiety. Despair. Now these sit and stare back at me in the void of where the words once were. Unhealthy thoughts. Unhealthy actions. Spurred on by my depression over a sensation of loss that ironically, I can't even communicate.

And still, the words won't come.

I miss the joy. I miss the excitement. I miss the ecstasy of playing the role of conductor, arranging the characters into a symphony of life and connection.

I miss the craft.

I miss the creating.

And this is echoed in my feeling of loss of not sensing the Creator.

And still. The words won't come.